It was not immediately obvious where the €20million had been spent as I arrived at the five-star K Club resort in Straffan - upon arrival the hotel’s elegant facade appeared untouched.
“You’re staying in the new Liffey Wing,” I was informed, as we wandered the stylish corridors to my room.
It was certainly a seamless journey from the main hotel to the recently built extension, which has doubled the hotel’s capacity from 70 to 140 rooms.
So straight away, I was impressed by the hotel’s commitment to sticking with tradition by building in the exact same style as the original house, while many other Irish hotels have taken the easier option by adding a contemporary wing, tacked onto an old stately home.
The bedrooms are bright and spacious, while many of them enjoy views to the River Liffey or the gardens, and as my room was located on garden level, I also enjoyed direct access to a private terrace, which added a real summer garden feel as the grassy banks roll down to the adjacent river.
The furnishings, as you would expect, are in keeping with the original Straffan House, which was built in 1832 by the French wine-making, Barton family, and the rooms were designed to echo classical elegance, comfort and luxury with each bathroom depicting different hand painted motifs or French countryside scenes.
Always a huge part of the five-star experience, dining at the K Club is, as expected, first class, with head chef Finbar Higgins offering a traditional menu with many ingredients grown on the resort and within the local area. An interesting selection of starters included oak smoked Irish salmon, Atlantic prawn tails and seared west Cork scallops with onion ice cream, while the extensive main course options included glazed breast of Fermanagh duck, fillet of wild seabass, as well as the spectacular whole black sole meuniere. The chocolate fondant and Bailey’s ice cream dessert is worth the admission fee alone.
Elsewhere, a new Thai Restaurant has opened in the clubhouse of the Smurfit Course, while a casual dining menu is available in Legends, the restaurant named after the course designer, located in the Arnold Palmer Clubhouse overlooking the Palmer Ryder Cup course.
A new bar called ‘The Media Puzzle Bar’ has also been added as part of the renovation and makes for the perfect setting to wind the night down after dinner. Named after owner Dr Smurfit’s Melbourne Cup winning horse, the new bar is painted in a classic racing green and features large windows and French doors to the gardens.
K Club Activities
One of the hotel’s main attractions is the picturesque grounds of the sprawling estate. A great walk will take you out from the terrace at the back of the hotel from where signposts guide you around the trail that even at the most leisurely pace will last no longer than an hour. There is much to ponder along the walk, with commanding views of the garden, the golf courses, the river and beyond to the plains of Kildare.
In the 19th century, the Barton family laid out the garden on the banks of the Liffey, combining a formal garden and a collection of interesting trees with informal riverside plantings. The walk continues to the white, cast-iron suspension bridge that dates back to 1849 and along the river banks to the walled garden, back around past the herb garden and arriving back at the hotel terrace.
Other activities include a falconry experience, fishing with the resident ghillies taking you out on the water for lessons, clay pigeon shooting with expert tuition from the trappers or horse-riding on the nearby Abbeyfield farm. For the more energetic, bicycles are also available to allow you to explore the estate.
The K Club for Kids
Travelling with my two-year old, I was pleasantly surprised to see how welcoming the resort was for children and my daughter took to five-star country estate living like a duck to water, or actually a swan to water, which was one of her many wow moments, watching the magnificent bird splash down in the water while out exploring the grounds.
From the Pegasus horse statues in the front lawns to the pretty panther guarding the entrance, her imaginative mind seemed to be working on overdrive from the moment we arrived to the time we left. Some curious glances at the stuffed ducks and pheasants en route to the room, thankfully, failed to generate any awkward questions.
And while the adults were enjoying their fine-dining cuisine, an extensive children’s menu was offered as an alternative with quality food arriving in a child-friendly presentation. Her nibs was suitably impressed.
The Irish Open at the K Club
Ten years on from Europe’s famous and emotional Ryder Cup victory, the elite of European golf returned to the venue for this year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in May.
And the venue certainly matched the most prestigious event on the Irish golf calendar as Rory McIlroy hosted the tournament and then duly reigned supreme with a masterclass over the final holes to win his first Irish Open. Former champion Padraig Harrington and fellow major winners Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke also featured.
Golf at the K Club
Despite the fact that the Irish Open was staged here this year, standing on the first tee brought back memories of the raucous atmosphere of the 2006 Ryder Cup, which was, of course, hosted by the K Club.
The Arnold Palmer designed course was in pristine condition and it is no surprise that it is consistently recognised as one of the best golf destinations in Ireland.
What followed was 18 holes of pure parkland pleasure with fairways meandering along each hole like freshly laid carpet, while the omnipresent threat of water, trees and deep bunkers make it a formidable challenge.
For guests staying a few nights at the resort, the K Club’s second course is another Arnold Palmer design, the Smurfit Course, and while it is a different golfing challenge, the quality remains high, while the rugged beauty may even surpass the Ryder Cup course.
Following your round at the Ryder Cup course, you can relive the ecstatic scenes from that great European win on the clubhouse balcony overlooking the course where captain Ian Woosnam, and Irish trio Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley led the crowd with some fine displays of making a pint of Guinness disappear very, very quickly.
A more relaxing option is to take a short hop across the resort to indulge in the K Spa with a swim and a sauna, or choose from the extensive range of treatments, while there is also a hydro Jacuzzi and an outdoor hot tub to be enjoyed.
Stay & Play at the K Club
The five-star setting, naturally, comes at a price with midweek room rates during the summer upwards of €250 per room per night, with a significant rise at the weekend.
The hotel website does contain several offers whether your trip is gourmet, Spa, golf-based or all of the above, and it is possible to enjoy a midweek, two-night stay with dinner on one night for around €320pps. For those just looking to experience some fine dining, the River Room restaurant’s four-course menu is available for €69pp, with supplement charges on a select number of dishes.
Green fees at either of the two courses start at €60 per round on the Smurfit Course (early-bird rate), while the Ryder Cup course equivalent starts at €100 per round. Again, check the hotel website for more suitable stay and play options.
Getting to the K Club
Located in the village of Straffan, the K Club is less than 30-minute drive from Dublin city centre. Take the N7 or N4 off the M50 and the resort is equidistant from Maynooth (N4/M4) or the Straffan exit on the N7.
Kildare plays a big part in the recently launched Ireland’s Ancient East trail, and a visit to the medieval town of Kildare is just a short 20-minute drive from the K Club. The Kildare Town Heritage Centre is located in the restored 18th century Market House and the multi-media exhibition tells the story of Kildare past and present.
Your host, Cogitosus, a 7th century monk will take you on a fascinating journey through time – an audio visual presentation of the town from when St Brigid established her church in 480ad, to later centuries when Kildare was raided by Vikings and later ruled by Normans. The famous Japanese Gardens, National Stud and the Curragh Racecourse are also within a few minutes by car.
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